RUSHMORE


     "Go, swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth of skin,
To a people terrible from their beginning onward,
A nation powerful and treading down,
Whose land the rivers divide. . .


I was born behind Uncle Tom’s cabin, south of the Mason-Dixon Line

Where life was worse than a living hell and hard work never earned a dime

Where from about the age of two they daily beat me black and blue

I bowed low and said “yas, maser”, though they never had a clue

That my soul could not be tamed, for in my heart burned freedom’s fire

And to make that great escape was my sole goal and heart’s desire

Teaching their children that lynching Negro's is the righteous thing to do

My brother Fred became the victim of a Sunday afternoon southern barbecue

They doused him with kerosene and strung him up from a front-yard tree

Setting him afire as he dangled and choked, dancing around his corpse
     with glee

For trying to escape, while still alive, they slowly peeled off Uncle Bill’s skin

As the rest of us were forced to watch lest we should harbor a similar whim

My oft beaten body was scabbed with scars, unlike my sisters, Sue and Alice

Who were raped by maser’s children, a common ritual of pre-nuptial practice

Cousin Emmet from that heaven up North, came for a visit one blistering      summer

They castrated him, popped out his eyeballs and tossed his corpse in the      Tallahatchie River

Little brother Johnnie was beaten to death because they found him with a      children’s book

And for encouraging such an unforgivable sin, my grandmother’s life, they
     also took

This was only the out-most crust of a bitter brutal loaf of life’s bread most cruel

But worse than all of the physical pain and misery is slavery’s toll on the
     human soul

* * * * * * * * * *

So, after failing twice with my two brothers, one night I set out all on my own

Guided by the Drinking Gourd and North Star, fleeing from my perilous home

Helping hands with nameless faces aided me along a trackless railroad

Special tree markings and hiding places assisting me to my eventual abode

In the relative safety of southern Canada, away from the Northern bounty
     hunters

And away from federal soldiers and vicious bloodhounds of my treacherous
     Southern masters

But I could not live in freedom’s peace while my kin knew a life of only
     nightmare fears

So I became a full-time conductor for the Underground Railroad of human tears

From Canada down through the swamps of Maryland, I made the trip nineteen
     times in all

And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, for this is my soul’s natural call

My freedom train was not once derailed, not a single passenger was ever lost

But those who would ride with me on this train must weigh the high price of
     freedom’s cost

* * * * * * * * * *

Now they call me Black Moses and I’ve been to Rushmore Mountain

Where you carved four light-skin faces in Sitting Bull’s sacred homeland

A great granite graven image to a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation

Amidst your legacy of the Fugitive Slave Act and most evil Dred Scott Decision

Where all who are created light and male are granted equality’s easy freedom

But no faces other than these need apply to be honored for courageous
     contribution

On the backs of iniquity’s slave labor, you rolled out capitalism's wheels of
     enterprise invention

Pretending a Manifest Destiny of blind bigotry would somehow cover your
     genocidal sin

And now you parade your New World Order, an insane hypocrisy of red,
     white and blue

Expecting bitter nations to kiss your bloodstained sword and lay down their
     arms for you

Thinking not that your blind lady of injustice will at last be weighed in truth’s
     impartial balance

And be crushed with the Grapes of Wrath in the fury of our Father in heaven's
     great winepress

* * * * * * * * * *

Oh say can you see by the Underground Railroad North Star light?

Elijah swung low for Harriet in his great chariot late last night

And now her slow Freedom Train has reached its final destination

With Lazarus and brother Martin in the comfort of Abraham’s bosom

Where they look across that great divide from which forever there is no
     returning

Into the great bottomless black hole inferno of raging Mississippi fires
     burning * ** *** ****


. . .He will both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks
     And take away and cut down the branches
     They will be left together for the mountain birds of prey
     And for the beasts of the earth
     The birds of prey will summer on them
     And all the beasts of the earth will winter on them
     In that time a present will be brought to the lord of hosts
     From a people tall and smooth of skin
     And from a people terrible from their beginning onward
     A nation powerful and treading down
     Whose land the rivers divide" ¹


The Underground Railroad

Life Of Harriet Tubman      The Harriet Tubman Center

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center



DEDICATED TO:  
John P. Parker and the many unknown soldiers who fought freedom's great fight along the trackless miles of the Underground Railroad and to Emmet Till and Medgar Evers in honor of Harriet Tubman, whose life and example inspired this poem; Harriet Tubman was viewed as such a severe threat by Southern slave masters that there was a $25,000 bounty placed on her head, a huge sum by today’s measure and the largest known reward ever offered for a former slave.  Also dedicated to historian James O. Horton , who has devoted countless hours to help uncover the truth regarding American slavery in general and those who risked everything to flee from it in particular.  The horrific reality of slavery in the United States is far worse than most modern Americans even begin to imagine. And the completely watered down and utterly slanted versions found in most modern history books and all modern educational materials remains an open and utter shame. *****


Credits:

1. Isaiah chapter 18 (portions).


*FootNote:  Inspired by the life of Harriet Tubman, a Maryland plantation slave who eventually on her third try, escaped to the North and then consistently risked her life to help over 300 of her fellow slaves obtain their freedom.  Though it is known that Harriet Tubman was herself severely beaten as a small child, it is not entirely clear just how much human misery she was personally witness to.  Nevertheless, all of the descriptions of incredible cruelties noted above are based on known historical facts of American slavery and represent but a small tip of a very large iceberg of unbelievably cold and wicked cruelty wrought with total lack of human conscience upon defenseless men, women and children.  During the timeframe of Harriet Tubman’s heroic efforts, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850 by a most incredibly wicked United States Congress (is there anything new under the sun?) and was soon followed by the horrendous Dred Scott Decision of the equally blind and iniquitous Supreme Court, which legally defined slaves as property and whose chief justice himself wrote that African Americans have “no rights which any white man [is] bound to respect”.  After the passage of these two outrageous pieces of legislation, many free African Americans in the North were rounded up and sold down river into slavery.
Consequently, there was very little safety for African Americans in either northern or southern states, which is why the preferred destination became Canada (Harriet Tubman herself originally ended up in Philadelphia).  The term “Underground Railroad” is truly a misnomer, as neither was it at all a railroad, transportation was not provided, nor was it very well organized.  For the most part, a fugitive slave was on his or her own, though there were many both dark and light (and perhaps a few red) hands that often seemed to appear out of nowhere to help along the way.  There were former slaves and others, including some sympathetic light-skinned Southerners as well as Northern abolitionists, who opened their homes to those attempting escape (most often in utter secrecy and thus, much is lost to history).  Since slaves were forbidden by law to be educated, they were almost entirely illiterate, possessed no maps and thus, had only the stars, a few tree markings and hiding places (‘safe’ houses) which more or less defined the Underground Railroad and their hearts to guide them.  Very few had ever been outside of their own immediate area, communication to them by mail from the North was very strictly forbidden and thus, most freedom-seeking slaves had only a vague notion of what they were running to and of the dangers along the way. Obviously, what induced many of them to risk torture and death if caught is that they most definitely knew what they were running away from.
Lyric of the final line was inspired by the motion picture, Mississippi Burning; Orion Pictures.  Based on United States vs. Cecil Price et al.

**FootNote II:  The fact that today, nearly a quarter of a century after his untimely death, there remains no suitable memorial in Washington D.C. for Martin Luther King, Jr., America’s greatest son and more tellingly, the fact that the majority of American businesses that close to honor days set aside for other holidays continue to remain open for ‘business as usual’ on “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day”, is a very clear indication that racism remains alive and well within the borders of the nation of Mount Rushmore.  We are eager to honor those who appear to the majority of us as representing the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant traditions of our often very questionable heritage and very, very slow to honor anyone else who has made an equal or greater contribution toward our positive good.  It is likely to remain as rare as a snowy day in hell before our education system and national celebrations fairly and adequately represent the immense positive contributions to we the multi-diverse varied skin-toned people of America from individuals such as Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Harriet Tubman and Cesar Chavez.

***FootNote III:  Those who today would think to oppose Affirmative Action or an otherwise suitable replacement are those who simply have not thought at all, nor do they have the foggiest notion of what Martin Luther King, Jr. and/or Civil and Human Rights are all about, or why such a concept as “Human Rights” is necessary in the first place.  Most obviously, cowards hiding under white hoods who burn crosses and bomb churches and homes under the cover of darkness and others like them, who continue to use the derogatory term “nigger” when referring to people of a darker skin-tone then themselves, are not likely to freely encourage equality among women and minorities by their own volition.  Opposing legislation that helps to offset ongoing prejudice among We The People of America even a little is equivalent to opposing Martin Luther King, Jr., the legacy of the four presidents whose images are carved on the face of Mount Rushmore and the God who created the mountain and us all. Until they have a truly better idea, let those who would resist that which helps even a little to offset inequality, keep their unpatriotic regressive foolishness to themselves.
If one stops to consider for a moment the very clear historical reality, since the early 1950’s, women and African Americans and other minorities have made significant inroads toward more fairly apportioned control and representation in education, business management, the sports and entertainment industries and in their own personal realities of greatly expanded freedom of choice.  This is by-and-in-large, a result of Affirmative Action and other similarly forced government induced integration.  As the reality of the aftermath of the Civil War on down through Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott clearly demonstrates, it is one thing to issue a proclamation of emancipation and to approve women’s suffrage and other Civil Rights legislation and quite another to put such legislation into actual practice.  Former African-American slaves remained in economic, political and social "Jim Crow" bondage as virtually slaves long after President Lincoln officially freed them and some of their descendants continue to in many ways, remain as such today.  It is probably accurate to state that women have benefited far more from such legislation than minorities but nevertheless, women today percentage-wise continue to earn significantly less then men for performing the same tasks and they continue to overall, hold far less business and other positions of power.  If there is no need for Affirmative Action (or a better idea), then there was no need for Martin Luther King, Jr. or the Civil Rights Movement or women’s suffrage at all.  Going by the current convoluted reasoning of those who would oppose government legislated intervention, everything will work out just fine of its own accord.  Believing in such a baseless ‘pipe-dream’ is equivalent to denying that racism and sexism exist at all and, regarding such absurd illogic, the descendants of Harriet Tubman and other fugitive slaves might very well take serious issue.  It is beyond comprehension why any clear-thinking American woman or minority would oppose Affirmative Action or vote for those who endorse its removal.
Based on current American demographic reality, it is not being sexist or racist to allow preferential treatment for women and minorities.  On the contrary, as long as there is not true statistical equality in the United States among all diversity of the citizenry, it is decidedly racist and sexist to oppose what would continue to encourage equality for all Americans, regardless of sex, skin-tone, religion, sexual orientation and etc.  Recent June 2003 Supreme Court rulings regarding Affirmative Action issues have accomplished little more than to underscore that the current Supreme Court has no political guts and consequently, deserves no applause or glory.

****FootNote IV:  Originally, the author had in mind to construct an historical poem entitled "Rushmore" to depict the sometimes good and more often negative legacy of "The Great American Experiment" of so-called modern-day free enterprise, largely fueled (in the United States) on the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant oppressive and totally baseless notion of “manifest destiny”.  In researching the history surrounding the construction of the Mount Rushmore Memorial, it came to light that the chief designer himself was a sympathizer of the then politically emerging K.K.K. and though he himself may or may not have been racist, the unholy bent of the Klan nevertheless did not seem to particularly bother him.  Thus, for better or worse, the above poem evolved instead and the original titled remains, for which no apology is offered.  Rather instead, many thanks are extended to Alfre Woodard and The History Channel for their most inspiring video, Underground Railroad, which should be required viewing in every United States history classroom in our nation, historian James O. Horton (noted above), Ken Burns, for his ongoing attempt to portray our history both interestingly and fairly and to the editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which consistently remains the best general reference source for cohesive world information enlightenment.  As long as there are not major Washington D.C. memorials for prominent American Indians, women and individuals of a variety of skin-tone, religious and cultural background, We The People of the United States continue to have a clearly defined Human and Civil Rights problem.

*****Some victims of this “white”-washing of the historical facts have argued that the illustration of lynching by the author in the above poem is not technically correct, claiming that lynching only began near or after the Civil War had ended.  The truth is that there are records of some unfortunate Africans being hung by slave traders to instill fear into the others before they were even put on slave ships bound for American and other foreign shores.  There are also scattered records of slaves being tortured, beaten to death and hung within the borders of the American colonies prior to the Revolutionary War and paintings of ritual hangings accompanied by burning and torture which date long before the start of the Civil War.  The widespread use of photography for newspaper reporting and other general purposes came into its own about the time of the Civil War and this, along with the fact that southern states were not open to having records kept of the many grave injustices inflicted upon African American slaves, explains why most photographic and other evidence of lynching dates after the Civil War.  Ample evidence of the horrors of American slavery (including records of pre-Civil War slave lynching and torture) can be obtained through online web search Google.com), as well as in many historical works (including slave letters and the works of Frederick Douglass and other former slave writings) available at most larger public libraries. Typical popular ‘histories’ of the United States generally do not begin to even remotely describe the horrors of African-American human bondage.  Neither do most standard works at all adequately cover the gross injustices inflicted on Native Americans, other minorities and poor and working-class citizens of all skin coloration during various phases of pre and post-revolutionary America, extending on well into the 20th Century (and continuing on into the 21st Century).


           


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Copyright © August 20th, 2003 by Richard Aberdeen.

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